When the Covid-19 guidelines changed and the medical experts recommended that people wear masks to stores, I complied because I am a rule follower. I tied the fabric mask that my friend had graciously made for me around my face and entered the grocery store. I quickly found that I didn’t like wearing a mask. Not because of the mask itself but because I’m not a medical professional or accustomed to wearing a face covering. First, I couldn’t tie the strings tight enough to keep the mask attached without accidentally tying my hair too. Then, my glasses immediately fogged up so that I couldn’t see, so I removed my glasses while I shopped. I noticed that I couldn’t tell if other people with masks were smiling or frowning. Nor could they tell the same about me. The mask muffled my voice making it harder to exchange the usual pleasantries with the other shoppers or the cashier. Most irritating, though, was the feeling that I couldn’t breathe. Obviously, I could breathe, but I felt like I was suffocating. I was sweaty and uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait to get back to my van, so I could remove the mask. I’ve better adapted to wearing masks in the last few weeks. My gratitude and admiration for those who wear them in their daily work have increased every time I put on one.
My recent mask experience reminded me of the masks we wear on a regular basis. Not the masks that we can see, but the ones that are invisible to the naked eye. The masks of perfection, stability, fearlessness, apathy, coolness – all the ones we wear to protect ourselves from being seen, being vulnerable, being hurt. We put on our social masks so we can navigate the world or social media or the clique that excludes us. The masks allow us to hide our real, authentic selves from others, separating and isolating us.
While the unseen masks sometimes protect us from emotional injuries, they also restrict us. They obscure our sight so that we cannot see others or ourselves with clarity. We cannot express ourselves with precision because they stifle us from sharing our true feelings. We prevent people from viewing our actual lives by wearing the masks. They can’t know if we are happy, sad, angry, frustrated or depressed. The masks we create to guard ourselves end up suffocating us so that we cannot breathe. And, unfortunately, we cannot remove them easily. In fact, we become so used to wearing them that we may forget we have them on at all.
We walk through life with our armored masks attempting to keep out the harsh world but may only choke out our own happiness. We may even approach God wearing our masks because we don’t want him to know who we really are either.
In the Bible, a woman who suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years reached out and touched Jesus’ clothes while he moved through a large crowd. She was healed, and then Jesus asked, “who touched me?” His disciples were baffled because so many people were pressing in all around them. But Jesus insisted on knowing exactly who’d touched him. The passage says, “When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’” Luke 8:45-48 (NRSV). She had hoped to stay hidden, but I imagine her pulling a veil from her face to reveal herself and confess her action. Jesus did not want her to hide from him. He wanted to know her and her story.
God doesn’t need or want for us to put on our invisible masks in our relationship with him. We can be ourselves in our relationship with God. We can carry his love and confidence in us wherever we go. Our efforts to hide from him are futile anyway. When we feel the urge to put on our shields in the presence of others, we can remember that God knows us fully and completely and loves us anyway.
I think God would want us to follow the safety suggestions and wear masks in public to protect ourselves from Covid-19 these days. But God wants us to remove our invisible masks with him and with others so that we breathe freely and deeply again.